TO THE MOST EXCELLENT MEN AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS OF CHRIST, THE PASTORS AND DOCTORS OF THE CHURCH OF ZURICH, HIS VERY DEAR COLLEAGUES AND RESPECTED BRETHREN.
ALTHOUGH I speak with you repeatedly on the same subject, I do not think there is any reason to fear that you will think me irksome. As we agree in judgment, you cannot but approve what I do. In regard to the keenness with which I urge the matter, I am stimulated by the constant entreaties of worthy individuals. I have already sometimes mentioned that, for a slight cause, and yet not without some apparent ground, very many are offended because my doctrine seems in some respect, I scarcely know what, to differ from yours. They highly revere your Church, which is adorned by many noble gifts they also defer somewhat to our Church, and perhaps to myself as an individual. They are desirous in learning the doctrine of piety to be assisted by my writings, but would not have any appearance of disagreement to retard their progress. Thinking no means better fitted to remove this offense than a friendly conference in which we might together adopt means to testify our agreement, I for this purpose paid you a visit, my venerable colleague William Farel, (indefatigable soldier of Christ as he is,) who had suggested and advised the visit, not declining to accompany me. That we are agreed, we can indeed on both sides truly and faithfully declare; but as I cannot persuade all of the fact as it really stands, it very much grieves me that some remain in anxiety and suspense, for whose peace of mind I am desirous to consult. Hence, as I observed before, I think that I am not acting out of season in urging that there should be some public testimony of the agreement existing between us.
The leading articles on which we conferred I have deemed it of consequence briefly to collect and digest, in order that, if my purpose shall be approved by you, it may be in the power of any one to have, as it were, a tabular view of what was done and transacted between us. That in every thing I set down I give a faithful record of the conference, I am confident that you will bear me witness. That we (I mean Farel and myself) have, with like zeal as your own, studied sincere perspicuity, free from all gloss and cunning, pious readers will, I hope, perceive. I wish it however to be understood that nothing is here contained which our colleagues also, as many as serve Christ under the jurisdiction of the city of Geneva or in the Canton of Neufchatel, have not approved by their subscription. Farewell, most excellent men and brethren, whom I truly love in my heart. May the Lord always guide you by His Spirit, and bless your labors for the edification of His Church. GENEVA, 1st August 1549.
LETTER FROM THE PASTORS OF ZURICH TO CALVIN.
THE PASTORS, DOCTORS, AND MINISTERS OF THE CHURCH OF ZURICH TO THEIR VERY DEAR BROTHER, JOHN CALVIN, FAITHFUL PASTOR OF THE CHURCH OF GENEVA.
CALVIN, most respected brother in the Lord, your ardent zeal and sedulous labors it, endeavoring, from day to day, to illustrate the doctrine of the Sacraments, and remove from amid the Church offenses which seem to have arisen from some rather obscure exposition of these ordinances, are so far from being irksome to us, that we think them not only worthy of being proclaimed with applause, but also assisted and imitated by us in the best of our ability. For while the sacred laws of our Prince, Jesus Christ, refer all actions to the cultivation of charity, and zeal to assist each other, there is nothing they more strictly prohibit than for any one to throw an obstacle in another’s way so as to prevent him from judging rightly and truly concerning things, the knowledge of which is necessary, or at least useful and salutary to men, or from properly performing the duty which he owes both to God and his neighbour. With the same strictness they enjoin us to remove, as far as may be, the offenses at which men are wont to stumble.
Wherefore the cause of the visit which you and our venerable brother, the Revelation William Farel, paid us seemed to us most honorable and specially worthy of men holding office in the Church. The object was, first, that we should, by friendly conference, mutually and in the simplest terms possible, explain our views on the Sacraments, especially on those articles on which some controversy had hitherto existed among those who in regard to other articles delivered the purer doctrine of the gospel with great uniformity; and, secondly, that we should testify our consent by a published document. We see no more convenient way and method of ending religious controversy or suppressing vague suspicions where no discrepancy exists, or, in fine, Of removing offenses which sometimes arise in the Church of God from contrariety of opinion in the teachers, than by mutually explaining their mind with the greatest openness both by speech and writing.
But it were little that the truth thus investigated and discovered should be retained by them if it is not made patent to other men also, by expounding to them more fully what had been more sparingly indicated, and enunciating what was more obscurely expressed in more familiar terms, and making any thing formerly ambiguous clear by words certain, appropriate, and significant.
This method was ever approved by the Fathers of the Church, and was very often employed, never without advantage to the Church, in settling religious controversies. In short, it was approved by the sovereign example of the apostles of Jesus Christ our Lord and our God. For just in this manner and way, as we read in the fifteenth chapter of the Acts, was a very great dissension quelled, when the Apostles and their genuine disciples taught that hearts were purified by faith in the name of Christ, and men saved wholly by his grace; while some persons contended that they behoved to be circumcised, and keep the law of Moses.
Wherefore, dear brother Calvin, we cannot but entirely approve of your holy efforts, and those of all pious men, who study by fit means to remove offenses, and renew the tottering peace and tranquillity of the Church, endeavoring, by simple and accurate explanation, to render Christian doctrine more and more plain and clear to men, and rid their minds of vague causes of discord, and endeavoring, moreover, to bring back those who have somewhat differed in word and opinion to true, entire, and holy concord. That the public document in which we wished clearly to testify our agreement, alike to the pious and to the enemies of the truth, will have the beneficial effect which you augur in your letter, we are induced to hope, after having made the trial. We transmitted the formula of our mutual consent to some brethren, and have exhibited it to some persons here who love Christ and truth, and are not unskilled in sacred things. They have not only recognised that we agree even in those articles in which it was hitherto supposed by many that we differed, but have also given thanks to Christ our Savior on perceiving that we agree in God and in truth, and entertain great hopes of larger fruit in the Church.
Some, however, have desired a more copious treatment of this subject, because of certain minds, who, on hearing of our purpose, are not easily satisfied. But of what use was it to explain more fully that God is the author of the sacraments, and instituted them for the legitimate sons of the Church, or to tell how many sacraments were delivered by Christ to the Church, or what have been devised by men — what; the parts of sacraments, at what place, at what time, by what sacred instrumentality the ordinances are to be performed? That in these, and some other articles of the same class, there was no semblance or shade of difference between us, is sufficiently proved by published treatises, which either our preceptors, of pious and blessed memory, or we ourselves, have written on the sacraments. Of the bodily presence of Christ our Lord, of the genuine meaning of the formal words, of the eating of the body of Christ, of the end, use, and effect of the sacraments, (articles on which many hitherto suppose that our opinions, or at least our words, were conflicting,) we have spoken so copiously, so plainly and simply, as to hope that men studious both of brotherly concord and clear truth, will not feel in our document any want of either copiousness or clearness. Nor are we diffident that the ministers of other churches in Switzerland will readily acknowledge that the doctrine we have expressed on the sacraments is the very same that has for many years been commonly received among the Christian people, and that they are the very last to differ from us. This, too, we promise ourselves, not without strong reasons, from all the pious in other nations.
Should any one, however, produce a clearer explanation of the sacraments, we would rather use it with all the pious, than urge one individual to subscribe an Agreement in which we have used the words of Holy Scripture, and aptly expressed in what sense we understand them, and hold it perfectly clear that we agree with the Catholic Church. Even though this document should not have removed the offenses of all whom any semblance of disagreement among us has impeded in the ways of the Lord, we still think, however, that it has admirably fulfilled its office in having attested to all clearly, and without equivocation, that we, whom God has enabled to think and speak the same thing on the doctrines of religion, do not at all differ in the exposition of its ordinances. Farewell, dearest Brother. ZURICH, 30th August 1549.
JOHN CALVIN TO THE PASTORS OF THE TOWN AND TERRITORY OF ZURICH, OF BERNE, BASLE, SCHAFFHONSEN, COIRE, AND ALL THE COUNTRY OF THE GRISONS, OF ST. GALL, BIENNE, MILHAUSEN, AND NEUFCHATEL, HIS WELL-BELOVED BRETHREN AND SERVANTS OF JESUS CHRIST. F3
MY DEAR AND HONOURED BRETHREN, FOUR years ago we caused to be printed a brief statement of our agreement in doctrine touching the sacraments, which we thought well fitted to stifle the troublesome disputes which had too long been carried on between learned and God-fearing people. And certainly we had inserted enough in that little summary to appease and satisfy all well disposed minds, as in fact many learned and honorable persons have not only approved our measure, but also declared that our doctrine therein pleased them exceedingly. If some from being somewhat obstinate in their fancy, or rather, as happens after great disturbances, from having some remains of suspicion rooted in their heart, have not been able to come so soon to a full agreement with us, still by keeping silence, they have shown that they considered nothing better than to cherish peace and friendship. Still, however, some ignorant and wrong-headed persons give themselves such license in disturbing the matters set at rest, that if we do not come forward to repress them, there is reason to fear that they will kindle a new war.
It is true, indeed, that as they are few in number, and are possessed of no quality which can give them authority or credit, while moreover they by their foolish babble expose themselves to universal hatred and derision, we might with good reason despise them, were it not that by making a show of advocating the public cause, they under such pretext, vain though it be, abuse the weak who are not sufficiently on their guard. Wherefore seeing that their audacity does great harm, and that the more patient we are the more it increases and breaks bounds, we cannot do better than resist it, necessity constraining us thereto.
I can indeed declare, that although their books fly up and down, vexing the good, disturbing the weak, and arming the wicked with slander, it is with great regret, and as it were in spite of myself, that I have engaged in putting a stop to their foolishness. But because I would have thought it cruel if, on discovering their fallacies, I had not delivered many worthy simple persons from error, I have not hesitated to oppose myself frankly to these rioters who only seek to throw every thing into confusion.
I have had in view also to remind persons of weight and learning, whose names these brainless fellows pretend to use, that it is a shame in them to give loose reins to evil by their silence. For while all Christians ought to endeavor to extinguish the fire which Satan is endeavoring to kindle up by such bellows, the persons referred to, whom these disturbers bring into their quarrel, have more interest in this than we have, and therefore ought to strive doubly to repress their unseasonable intermeddling, which redounds to the common dishonor of many churches.
For the hot-headed men to whom I refer, stirring up the contention which formerly existed in regard to the Sacraments, pretend to maintain the doctrine which is preached in Saxony and Lower Germany. Now when that is heard and believed, some are troubled because of the respect which they bear to those churches, others make a mock of all the teachers in that quarter, seeing they make use of such creatures to plead their cause, while several knowing well that the sounder part give them no countenance, inveigh against their excessive patience. Meanwhile the declared enemies of Jesus Christ are delighted at seeing us fighting together as if it were a kind of cock-fight. Now since it is perverse and unworthy dissimulation to give loose reins to evil, persons of letters and renown in those countries should consider well, in discharging their duty, whether it be possible to repress the impetuous rage of those who trouble the Church without cause.
As I am desirous to bring back to the good way all who are in any degree fit to be dealt with and have not yet exceeded all bounds, that they may have it in their power to return peacefully, I shall here refer to only one individual, and that without naming him.
This foolish man, after boasting loudly of his great zeal for the Catholic faith, prays on the learned and renowned (persons whom I love and honor, he calls his masters) to join in assisting him. The high honor which he pays them, is to arm them against us. These excellent doctors are to follow the rash course of their scholar as archers do a man-at-arms. But on whom does he wish war to be made? He answers in a single word, on the “Sacramentarians.” But when he is pleased to explain, he declares that all his talk is against those who leave nothing to the sacrament of the Supper but bare and empty signs. If so, he had as well rest himself, and leave the office to more competent persons. There are famous churches in the country of Switzerland and the Grisons, among which our own may well be classed. Surely far better captains will be found among us to maintain the dignity and virtue of the sacraments than such a gertdarme as he.
Moreover, there are an infinite number of persons who will make a better defense of this cause, and be faithfully enough disposed to it. Fox who is there amongst us who labors not to show that the Sacraments are conjoined with their reality and effect?
But when this venerable doctor, after so fine a preface, puts into his list several worthy persons who are as distant from this crime as heaven is from earth, and not only so, but expressly refers to our Agreement, as if we had therein consented to the error of which he speaks, instead of having expressly condemned it, is not the assertion too impudent and the absurdity too gross? It is not necessary to go far for arguments in our defense, seeing that this foolish man shortly afterwards quotes our own words, in which we openly acknowledge that the body of Jesus Christ is truly communicated to believers in the Supper. I pray you, do we leave nothing but empty signs when we affirm that what is figured is at the same time given, and that the effect takes place? To cover himself, he has recourse to a subterfuge the most meagre and frivolous imaginable. He says, that we speak of a spiritual manner of eating. How then? Would he have the flesh of the Christ to be eaten like the beeves of his country? But he adds, he does not think that we speak of the true body as if we imagined the body of Christ to be a phantom. We leave this reverie to him and his fellows.
Holding it as a settled point, that Jesus Christ has only a true and natural body, we say that as he was once offered on the cross to reconcile us; to God, he is also daily offered in the Supper. For the Lord Jesus, to communicate the gift of salvation which he has purchased for us, must first be made ours, and his flesh be our meat and nourishment, seeing that it is from it that we derive life. Such are the words which we clearly use in our Agreement.
But this worthy corrector, bringing forward what suits his purpose, like a traitor and falsifier, keeps out this article, though it is the chief. As he had professed to quote our sentences word for word, by what right or title does he separate, not to say dissever, members which are joined together, so that our meaning is not given? Is not this to act like a mad dog who bites straightforward at all the stones in his way? And yet, shortly after, he cannot refrain from producing our testimonies to the reality of the Sacraments, which he would falsely make it to be believed that we deny.
But here this disturber charges us with finesse and cunning, because he says, that by talking at large of receiving Christ in a spiritual manner we impose on the simple. As if we could spiritually communicate with Jesus Christ. without having him dwelling in us by means of faith, and being united to his body so as to live in him. This cannot be, unless Jesus Christ, inasmuch as he was once offered in sacrifice for us, give himself to us in order that we may enjoy him Hence it follows, that his flesh gives us life.
After this fine preface, this great defender of the faith, in order to specify the error against which he is combating, strives to show that there is great diversity of opinion amongst us, that he may by this means throw obloquy upon us. He takes it for art axiom, that the characteristic of heretics is to disagree. Though I should grant what he asks, I maintain that it does not touch us. He says, that we differ, inasmuch as, according to some, the bread signifies the body; according to others, is a mark or model of the body; to others, its sign; to others, its figure; to others, a memorial; to others, a representation; to others, an evidence or seal of the communion which we have with Christ; to others, a remembrance of the body which was delivered for us; to others, an assurance to testify to us his spiritual grace; to others, the communion which we have in the body of Christ. Who, pray, would not think on hearing him speak thus, that he is a mere dissembler who has an understanding with us? For it is impossible better to commend and prove a good agreement and full conformity than by collecting all these forms of speech which he opposes to each other as quite contrary, while every one sees that they all come to the same thing.
Moreover, to play his part with more finesse, he is not contented with giving a simple narrative, but has framed a table so as it were to exhibit the thing to the eye. Meanwhile, seeing that, as far as the words go, St. Matthew is less conformable to St. Paul, and St. Mark to St. Luke, than a dozen of expositors whom the produces as discordant with each other, to get quit of this difficulty he says that we not only differ in words but disagree in meaning. Let us then make a comparison of the whole, to judge if it is so.
What St. Matthew and St. Mark call blood, Luke and St. Paul call covenant in the blood. Here is great diversity. On our part what does he find? Surely the words sign, signification, figure, earnest,, memorial, representation, do not give a contrary meaning, seeing they are so closely connected together that any one draws the others after it. You see what the reasons are which have moved this wrongheaded man to forge in his closet fiery darts to set all Europe in flames if he could.
But what does he say for himself and his companions? In one place he affirms thus the words of Christ, when he says that the bread is his body, are sufficiently clear of. themselves and need no explanation. Soon after he denies not that there is some figure. It is unnecessary for us to inquire farther against whom he means to strike, since we see that in his frenzy he breaks down of himself. Still, at all events, let him name this figure which, he says, does not prevent the bread from being properly the body of Christ. For whatever the figure be, the effect of it is to make the sense to be neither simple nor literal. Thus he is caught as in a trap. For when in bringing forward his opinion, he agrees not with those whom he calls heretics, it follows from his argument, that he himself is of the number, unless he can show that his figure, which he conceals, is by universal consent so holy and sacred, that it is not lawful to think any ill of it. In concealing it he uses finesse to prevent judgment being passed upon it. But more than this, he confesses that some of us use the very words which he holds to be good and Catholic, though he says that their meaning is not so.
In that case what will become of the great contrariety of expressions which alone, according to him, make heretics even of those who are constrained to be different from others, in order not to give consent to error. It is certainly very distressing to see an impetuosity so blind that it would be unpardonable in a youth, thus transporting a poor old man and exposing him to the derision of children.
I mean not to disguise that he rakes together some passages from certain expositors, which apparently do not accord with each other, although in truth they may be reconciled. But the evil is that, in the first place, he maliciously lays hold of what is touched upon as it were by the by, and turns in this way and in that, as if it were to give a full determination of the whole matter; and secondly, it is rather too tyrannical and barbarous in him to lay down a law compelling all to speak in the same style and language, without one syllable of difference, seeing that each has his own peculiar mode of expressing himself, and ought to have liberty to do so.
One has said that the mystical body of Christ is here figured. What then?
Has not Augustine said the like? not to mention St. Paul, when he says that we are all one bread. Another has said that the Supper is a solemn memorial of the redemption which has been purchased for us. What? Does not this correspond very well with that which is taught us not only by St. Paul but our Sovereign Master, viz., that this sacrament has been ordained in order that his death may be shown forth? There was no occasion to make so much noise or excite any disturbance, far less is there any excuse for a man who calls himself a minister of peace, and in fact bears the message of reconciliation between God and men, when he raises such unseasonable alarm.
But assume that there was formerly some discordance, because the thing could not be fully cleared up at the first glance and disposed of, what humanity is there in reopening a sore which was closed up and cured? In order that the faithful might not be distracted by disputes which have only too much prevailed, we proposed to them our Agreement by which they could hold. This good zealot saw clearly that all whom he styles Sacramentarians have one same faith and confess it as with one same mouth, and even if the two excellent doctors, Zuinglius and Oecolompadius, who were known to be faithful servants of Jesus Christ, were still alive, they would not change one word. in our doctrine. For our good brother of blessed memory, Martin Bucer, after seeing our Agreement, wrote me that it was an inestimable blessing for the whole Church. Wherefore there is the more malice in this new corrector thus stirring up odium on account of it. On my part, not to pay him back in kind, but to repel the foolish calumny with which he has been pleased to assail us, I will reply in three sentences — first, it is characteristic of the devil to be a calumniator, as it is his name; secondly, it is also his characteristic to obscure what is clear, to stir up noise and discord by disturbing the peace; and, finally, it is his characteristic to break and destroy the unity of the faith. Since all these three meet in this man, I have no need to pronounce him a son of the devil, since the thing shows to great and small what he is.
On the whole, my dear and honored brethren, as we ought to take at least as much pains in maintaining the truth and cherishing concord as Satan in striving to ruin both. I have wished to do what was in my power, and also try if, peradventure, those who have hitherto been of too obstinate a temper might be tamed; if not, that those who are of sound judgment should be furnished with the defense of our cause, so as to be the better able to stop their mouths. Now the method which I have here adopted, of giving a fuller explanation of our meaning, has seemed to me the most proper. For the too great brevity of our first writing lays it open to much cavilling, and does not remove scruples which are deeply rooted. I have therefore dilated the summary which was formerly printed, and made the same confession at greater length, to render it more clear.
This blockhead, of whom I am sorry to speak so often, reproaches us with having such an abyss of opinions that no one understands what his companion would say. Now, me-thinks, I know so well what you believe and hold, that I am confident of having here written down what each of you would write in the same place. For I have not usurped the office of dictating what you are to confess after me, but rather refer the whole to your discretion. I have, however, proceeded boldly to compose this short treatise, because by former experience I had learned how agreeable my labor had been to you, and that. you had also sufficiently declared it to be so. Brethren, I commend you to God, praying him to guide you by his Spirit, and bless the pains which you take to edify his Church. My colleagues, ministers of the word, salute you.
GENEVA, 28TH NOVEMBER 1554.
HEADS OF AGREEMENT.
1. THE WHOLE SPIRITUAL GOVERNMENT OF THE CHURCH LEADS US TO CHRIST.
Seeing that Christ is the end of the law, and the knowledge of him comprehends in itself the whole sum of the gospel, there is no doubt; that the object of the whole spiritual government of the Church is to lead us to Christ, as it is by him alone we come to God, who is the final end of a happy life. Whosoever deviates from this in the slightest degree, can never speak duly or appositely of any ordinances of God. 2. A TRUE KNOWLEDGE OF THE SACRAMENTS FROM THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.
As the sacraments are appendages of the gospel, he only can discourse aptly and usefully of their nature, virtue, office, and benefit, who begins with Christ and that not by adverting cursorily to the name of Christ, but by truly holding for what end he was given us by the Father, and what blessings he has conferred upon us.
3. NATURE OF THE KNOWLEDGE OF CHRIST.
We must hold therefore that Christ being the eternal Son of God, and of the same essence and glory with the Father, assumed our flesh, to communicate to us by right of adoption that which he possessed by nature, namely, to make us sons of God. This is done when ingrafted by faith into the body of Christ, and that by the agency of the Holy Spirit we are first counted righteous by a free imputation of righteousness, and then regenerated to a new life whereby being formed again in the image of our heavenly Father, we renounce the old man.
4. CHRIST A PRIEST AND KING.
Thus Christ, in his human nature, is to be considered as our priest, who expiated our sins by the one sacrifice of his death, put away all our transgressions by his obedience, provided a perfect righteousness for us, and now intercedes for us, that we may have access to God. He is to be considered as a repairer, who, by the agency of his Spirit, reforms whatever is vicious in us, that we may cease to live to the word, and the flesh, and God himself may live in us. He is to be considered as a king, who enriches us with all kinds of blessings, governs and defends us by his power, provides us with spiritual weapons, delivers us from all harm, and rules and guides us by the scepter of his mouth. And he is to be so considered, that he may raise us to himself, the true God, and to the Father, until the fulfillment of what is finally to take place, viz., God be all in all.
5. HOW CHRIST COMMUNICATES HIMSELF TO US.
Moreover, that Christ may thus exhibit himself to us and produce these effects in us, the must be made one with us, and we must be ingrafted into his body. He does not infuse his life into us unless he is our head, and from him the whole body, fitly joined together through every joint of supply, according to his working, maketh increase of the body in the proportion of each member.
6. SPIRITUAL COMMUNION. — INSTITUTION OF THE SACRAMENTS.
The spiritual communion which we have with the Son of God takes place when he, dwelling in us by his Spirit, makes all who believe capable of all the blessings which reside in him. In order to testify this, both the preaching of the gospel was appointed, and the use of the sacraments committed to us, namely, the sacraments of holy Baptism and the holy Supper.
7. THE ENDS OF THE SACRAMENTS.
The ends of the sacraments are to be marks and badges of Christian profession and fellowship or fraternity, to be incitements to gratitude and exercises of faith and a godly life; in short, to be contracts binding us to this. But among other ends the principal one is, that God may, by means of them, testify, represent, and seem his grace to us. For although they signify nothing else than is announced to us by the word itself, yet it is a great matter, first, that there is submitted to our eye a kind of living images which make a deeper impression on the senses, by bringing the object in a manner directly before them, while they bring the death of Christ and all his benefits to our remembrance, that faith may be the better exercised; and, secondly, that what the mouth of God had announced is, as it were, confirmed and ratified by seals.
Now, seeing that these things which the Lord has given as testimonies and seals of his grace are true, he undoubtedly truly performs inwardly by his Spirit that which the sacraments figure to our eyes and other senses; in other words, we obtain possession of Christ as the fountain of all blessings, both in order that we may be reconciled to God by means of his death, be renewed by his Spirit to holiness of life, in short, obtain righteousness and salvation; and also in order that we may give thanks for the blessings which were once exhibited on the cross, and which we daily receive by faith.
9. THE SIGNS AND THE THINGS SIGNIFIED NOT DISJOINED BUT DISTINCT.
Wherefore, though we distinguish, as we ought, between the signs and the things signified, yet we do not disjoin the reality from the signs, but acknowledge that all who in faith embrace the promises there offered receive Christ spiritually, with his spiritual gifts, while those who had long been made partakers of Christ continue and renew that communion.
10. THE PROMISE PRINCIPALLY TO BE LOOKED TO IN THE SACRAMENTS.
And it is proper to look not to the bare signs, but rather to the promise thereto annexed. As far, therefore, as our faith in the promise there offered prevails, so far will that virtue and efficacy of which we speak display itself. Thus the substance of water, bread, and wine, by no means offers Christ to us, nor makes us capable of his spiritual gifts. The promise rather is to be looked to, whose office it is to lead us to Christ by the direct way of faith — faith which makes us partakers of Christ.
11. WE ARE NOT TO STAND GAZING ON THE ELEMENTS.
This refutes the error of those who stand gazing on the elements, and attach their confidence of salvation to them; seeing that the sacraments separated from Christ are but empty shows, and a voice is distinctly heard throughout proclaiming that we must adhere to none but Christ alone, and seek the gift of salvation from none but him.
12. THE SACRAMENTS EFFECT NOTHING BY THEMSELVES.
Besides, if any good is conferred upon us by the sacraments, it is not owing to any proper virtue in them, even though in this you should include the promise by which they are distinguished. For it is God alone who acts by his Spirit. When he uses the instrumentality of the sacraments, he neither infuses his own virtue into them nor derogates in any respect from the effectual working of his Spirit, but, in adaptation to our weakness, uses them as helps; in such manner, however, that the whole power of acting remains with him alone.
13. GOD USES THE INSTRUMENT, BUT ALL THE VIRTUE IS HIS.
Wherefore, as Paul reminds us, that neither he that planteth nor he that watereth is any thing, but God alone that giveth the increase; so also it is to be said of the sacraments that they are nothing, because they will profit nothing, unless God in all things make them effectual. They are indeed instruments by which God acts efficaciously when he pleases, yet so that the whole work of our salvation must be ascribed to him alone.
14. THE WHOLE ACCOMPLISHED BY CHRIST.
We conclude, then, that it is Christ alone who in truth baptizes inwardly, who in the Supper makes us partakers of himself, who, in short, fulfils what the sacraments figure, and uses their aid in such manner that the whole effect resides in his Spirit.
15. HOW THE SACRAMENTS CONFIRM.
Thus the sacraments are sometimes called seals, and are said to nourish, confirm, and advance faith, and yet the Spirit alone is properly the seal, and also the beginner and finisher of faith. For all these attributes of the sacraments sink down to a lower place, so that not even the smallest portion of our salvation is transferred to creatures or elements.
16. ALL WHO PARTAKE OF THE SACRAMENTS DO NOT PARTAKE OF THE REALITY.
Besides, we carefully teach that God does not exert his power indiscriminately in all who receive the sacraments, but only in the elect.
For as he enlightens unto faith none but those whom he hath foreordained to life, so by the secret agency of his Spirit he makes the elect receive what the sacraments offer.
17. THE SACRAMENTS DO NOT CONFER GRACE.
By this doctrine is overthrown that fiction of the sophists which teaches that the sacraments confer grace on all who do not interpose the obstacle of mortal sin. For besides that in the sacraments nothing is received except by faith, we must also hold that the grace of God is by no means so annexed to them that whoso receives the sign also gains possession of the thing. For the signs are administered alike to reprobate and elect, but the reality reaches the latter only.
18. THE GIFTS OFFERED TO ALL, BUT RECEIVED BY BELIEVERS ONLY.
It is true indeed that Christ with his gifts is offered to all in common, and that the unbelief of man not overthrowing the truth of God, the sacraments always retain their efficacy; but all are not capable of receiving Christ and his gifts. Wherefore nothing is changed on the part of God, but in regard to man each receives according to the measure of his faith.
19. BELIEVERS BEFORE, AND WITHOUT THE USE OF THE SACRAMENTS, COMMUNICATE WITH CHRIST.
As the use of the sacraments will confer nothing more on unbelievers than if they had abstained from it, nay, is only destructive to them, so without their use believers receive the reality which is there figured. Thus the sins of Paul were washed away by baptism, though they had been previously washed away. So likewise baptism was the laver of regeneration to Cornelius, though he had already received the Holy Spirit. So in the Supper Christ communicates himself to us, though he had previously imparted himself, and perpetually remains in us. For seeing that each is enjoined to examine himself, it follows that faith is required of each before coming to the sacrament. Faith is not without Christ; but inasmuch as faith is confirmed and increased by the sacraments, the gifts of God are confirmed in us, and thus Christ in a manner grows in us and we in him.
20. THE BENEFIT NOT ALWAYS RECEIVED IN THE ACT OF COMMUNICATING.
The advantage which we receive from the sacraments ought by no means to be restricted to the time at which they are administered to us, just as if the visible sign, at the moment when it is brought forward, brought the grace of God along with it. For those who were baptized when mere infants, God regenerates in childhood or adolescence, occasionally even in old age. Thus the utility of baptism is open to the whole period of life, because the promise contained in it is perpetually in force. And it may sometimes happen that the use of the holy Supper, which, from thoughtlessness or slowness of heart does little good at the time, afterwards bears its fruit.
21. NO LOCAL PRESENCE MUST BE IMAGINED.
We must guard particularly against the idea of any local presence. For while the signs are present in this world, are seen by the eyes and handled by the hands, Christ, regarded as man, must be sought nowhere else than in heaven, and not otherwise than with the mind and eye of faith.
Wherefore it is a perverse and impious superstition to inclose him under the elements of this world.
22. EXPLANATION OF THE WORDS — “THIS IS MY BODY.”
Those who insist that the formal words of the Supper “This is my body; this is my blood,” are to be taken in what they call the precisely litered sense, we repudiate as preposterous interpreters. For we hold it out of controversy that they are to be taken figuratively — the bread and wine receiving the name of that which they signify. Nor should it be thought a new or unwonted thing to transfer the name of things figured by metonomy to the sign, as similar modes of expression occur throughout the Scriptures, and we by so saying assert nothing but what is found in the most ancient and most approved writers of the Church.
23. OF THE EATING OF THE BODY.
When it is said that Christ, by our eating of his flesh and drinking of his blood, which are here figured, feeds our souls through faith by the agency of the Holy Spirit, we are not to understand it as if any mingling or transfusion of substance took place, but that we draw life from the flesh once offered in sacrifice and the blood shed in expiation.
24. TRANSUBSTANTIATION AND OTHER FOLLIES.
In this way are refuted not only the fiction of the Papists concerning transubstantiation, but all the gross figments and futile quibbles which either derogate from his celestial glory or are in some degree repugnant to the reality of his human nature. For we deem it no less absurd to place Christ under the bread or couple him with the bread, than to transubstantiate the bread into his body.
25. THE BODY OF CHRIST LOCALLY IN HEAVEN.
And that no ambiguity may remain when we say that Christ is to be sought in heaven, the expression implies and is understood by us to intimate distance of place. For though philosophically speaking there is no place above the skies, yet as the body of Christ, bearing the nature and mode of a human body, is finite and is contained in heaven as its place, it is necessarily as distant from us in point of space as heaven is from earth.
26. CHRIST NOT TO BE ADORED IN THE BREAD.
If it is not lawful to affix Christ in our imagination to the bread and the wine, much less is it lawful to worship him in the bread. For although the bread is held forth to us as a symbol and pledge of the communion which we have with Christ, yet as it is a sign and not the thing itself, and has not the thing either included in it or fixed to it, those who turn their minds towards it, with the view of worshipping Christ, make an idol of it.
EXPOSITION OF THE HEADS OF AGREEMENT.
ALL pious men, and men of sense and sound judgment, feeling disgust and annoyance at the contention which had arisen in our age concerning the Sacraments, and by which they saw that the prosperous course of the gospel was unhappily retarded, not only always wished for some convenient method of burying or settling it, but some of them made no small exertion for this very purpose. If the success was not immediately what might have been wished, a sad proof was given how difficult it is to put out fire once kindled by the artifice of Satan. This much indeed was gained, that both parties, calming their fervor somewhat, became more intent on teaching than fighting. But. as sparks were ever and anon starting forth from the smouldering coals, and gave some cause to fear a new conflagration, we, the Pastors of the Churches of Zurich and Geneva, with the assistance of our most excellent brother Farel, attempted what we thought the best remedy, so that no material might remain for future discord. We published a brief compendium, which attests our doctrine on the sacraments, and contains the common consent of the other pastors who preach a pure gospel in Switzerland and the Grisons. We felt persuaded that by the publication of this testimony satisfaction was given to moderate men, and we certainly thought that no person would be so rigidly scrupulous as not to rest appeased; for, as. we shall afterwards see, it contains a lucid definition of all the points which were formerly debated, and leaves no room for any uncharitable suspicion. And by the special goodness of God, it has in a great measure succeeded to a wish.
But, lo! while all was quiet, some wrong-headed men have started up, and as if their food were discord, call again to arms. They cannot excuse their intemperance by pretending holy zeal. We are all agreed that peace is not to be purchased by the sacrifice of truth and hence I acknowledge that better were heaven confounded with earth, than that the defense of sound doctrine should be abandoned. Whosoever heartily and strenuously opposes sophistical quibbles, which conciliate by giving a gloss to erroneous doctrine, I blame not nay, rather, I claim for myself this praise, that there is scarcely an individual who can take more pleasure than I do in a candid confession of the truth. Wherefore let them have done with the empty pretense, that oftentimes disturbance must be raised, if the truth is not to lie undefended. For I will show, first, that in this matter nothing has been stated by us obscurely or enigmatically, nothing craftily concealed, in short, nothing essential omitted; and, secondly, that the last thing proposed by us was to interrupt the free course of truth. Nay, rather, our greatest care was how that which is useful to be known in this matter might be both delivered and read calmly, and without offense. But not to bandy words upon this, all I ask of my readers is, to receive what I shall place before their eyes, and prove by solid and clear arguments.
In the first place, then, in treating of the sacraments, it cannot be denied that the chief thing to be considered is, the ordinance of our Lord and its object. In this way both the virtue and use of the sacraments is best ascertained, so that whosoever turns his mind in this direction, to which our Lord himself invites us, cannot err. That the end for which the sacraments were instituted has been rightly taught by us, even those who have the least fairness will be forced to confess The end, we say, is to bring us to communion with Christ. I will speak more confidently, and say, that none of our detractors ever brought forward any thing which more distinctly expressed what is intended. If it is on the dignity of the sacraments that their heart is set, what better fitted to display it than to call them helps and means by which we are either ingrafted into the body of Christ, or being ingrafted, are drawn closer and closer, until he makes us altogether one with himself in the heavenly life? If their desire is, that our salvation may be assisted by the sacraments, what more apt can be imagined, than that being conducted to the very fountain of life, we draw life from the Son of God? Therefore, whether our own advantage is looked to, or the dignity and reverence which ought to be attributed to the sacraments, we have clearly explained the end and cause of their institution. Certainly the objection which Paul makes to vain teachers, who puff men up with idle speculations instead of edifying, that they do not hold the head, is by no means applicable to us, who refer all things to Christ, gather all together in him, and arrange all under him, and maintain that the whole virtue of the sacraments flows from him. Now let these rigid censors prescribe a better method of teaching than was delivered by Paul, if they are dissatisfied with the adaptation of the sacraments to that symmetry between the head and the members, which St. Paul applauds so highly, and by which he estimates the entire perfection of doctrine It is well, then, that when about to speak of the sacraments, we used the best and most apposite exordium, and assigned them an end which all fair and moderate readers will, without controversy, approve. Then in regard to the legitimate use, two faults are to be avoided. For if their dignity is too highly extolled, superstition easily creeps in; and, on the other hand, if we discourse frigidly, or in less elevated terms of their virtue and fruit, profane contempt immediately breaks forth. If a middle course has been observed by us, who will not call those obstinate enemies of the truth, who choose rather to carp maliciously at a holy consent, than either civilly embrace, or at least silently approve it?
We do not ask them to swear to our words, but only to be quiet, and not stone those who are speaking correctly. They pretend indeed to make it their ground of quarrel, that we do not give the sacraments their due virtue.
But when we come to the point, some produce nothing but bad names and blind tumult, while others, with a toss of disdain, condemn, in a word, what they never read. That they quarrel without consideration, the case itself shows.
With what vehemence this cause was pleaded by Luther, whose imitators they would fain be thought, is too well known to all. I am aware how many hyperbolical things fell from him in debate; but whenever he wished to make his cause appear most plausible to pious and upright judges, what did he profess to be the ground of controversy? First, that he could not bear that the sacraments should be regarded merely as external marks of profession, and not also as badges and symbols of divine grace; and, secondly, that he held it an indignity to compare them to void and empty figures, while God truly testifies in them what he figures, and, at the same time, by his secret agency, performs and fulfills what he testifies. Whether he was right or wrong in flaming out so much, I do not at present discuss.
It is enough for me, that though he was by no means remiss in pleading this cause, yet when it was necessary to act seriously, he found no restingplace for his foot but the pretext that the whole controversy lay here.
Without making further mention of a man whose memory I revere, and whose honor I am desirous to consult, let me declare my opinion simply.
Taking this pretext out of the way, those who would raise a quarrel with us cannot but excite the disgust of all honest and sound-headed men by their rigidity. The pretext I mentioned is ever and anon on their lips. If they use it candidly, and not merely to tickle the ears of the simple, surely when they hear us confess on the one hand, that the sacraments are neither empty figures nor mere external badges of piety, but seals of the divine promises, testimonies of spiritual grace to cherish and confirm faith, and, on the other, that they are instruments by which God acts effectually in his elect; that, therefore, although they are signs distinct from the things signified, they are neither disjoined nor separated from them; that they are given to ratify and confirm what God has promised by his word, and especially to seal the secret communion which we have with Christ; — there certainly remains no reason why they should rank us in their list of enemies.
While, as I lately mentioned, they are constantly exclaiming that they have no other purpose than to maintain the doctrine that God uses the sacraments as helps to foster and increase faith, that the promises of eternal salvation are engraven on them to offer them to our consciences, and that the signs are not devoid of 1;he things, as God conjoins the effectual working of his Spirit with them; then all this being granted, what, I ask, prevents them from freely giving us their hand? And to make it unnecessary to turn up and examine the private writings of each, readers will find in our Agreement every thing contained in the Confession published at Ratisbon, and called the Confession of Augsburg, provided only that it be not interpreted as having been composed under fear of torture, to gain favor with the Papists. The words are — “In the holy Supper, the body and blood of Christ are truly given with the bread and wine.” Far be it from us either to take away the reality from the sacred symbol of the Supper, or to deprive pious souls of so great a benefit. We say, that lest the bread and wine should deceive our senses, the true effect is conjoined with the external figure, so that believers receive the body and blood of Christ. Nay, as it was our design to leave pious readers in no doubt, we have attempted to explain more clearly and fully what that Confession only glanced at.
It is asked, what is the efficacy of the sacraments? what their use? what their office? Our document answers, that as the whole safety of believers depends on the communion which they have with the Son of God, in order to attest it the use as well of the gospel as of the sacraments was commanded. Let the reader observe that the sacraments are conjoined with the gospel, as conferring the same advantage upon us in the matter of salvation. Hence it follows, that what Paul says of the gospel ( Romans 1; 2 Corinthians 7.) we are at liberty to apply to them. Wherefore we deny not that they are part of that power which God exerts for our salvation, and that the ministry of our reconciliation with God is also contained in them. For seeing we always willingly professed to assent to the words of Augustine, that “a sacrament is a kind of visible word,” we undoubtedly acknowledge that our salvation is promoted in like manner by both means.
Now if it is asked what the nature of that communion is, by the description of it given by us a little before, it cannot be said to be fictitious and shadowy, viz., (and this, too, is the proper and perpetual office of faith,) that we must coalesce with the body of Christ, in order to his fulfilling in us the effects of his grace. There is no other way of infusing his life into us than by being our head, from which the whole body, joined together and connected by every joint of supply, according to his operation in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body.
Next follows the clearer explanation to which I lately adverted, that although the sacraments are marks and badges of Christian profession or fellowship, and likewise incitements to gratitude, in short, exercises of piety, and mutual contracts obliging us to the worship of God, they have, however, this principal end amongst others, viz., to testify, represent, and seal the grace which the Lord bestows upon us moreover, that they are not mere shows presented to our eyes, but that therein are represented the spiritual graces, the effect of which believing souls receive. The words are — “Seeing they are true testimonies and seals which God has given us of his grace, he undoubtedly performs inwardly by his Spirit whatever the sacraments figure; in other words, we obtain possession of Christ, the fountain of all blessings, are reconciled to God by means of his death, are renewed by his Spirit to holiness of life, in short, obtain righteousness and salvation.” To this we immediately after add, that by distinguishing between the signs and the things signified, we disjoin not the reality from the signs, but confess that all who by faith embrace the promises there offered receive Christ spiritually, with all his gifts.
Were I dealing with Papists I would collect passages of Scripture and ancient writers, and show more accurately that nothing has either proceeded from God, or ever been believed by the Church concerning the sacraments, that we have not briefly included. But it is strange that men, whose formal practice it is daily to cry, “the word of the Lord, the word of the Lord,” are not ashamed any longer to stir up strife, about this matter. For while nothing is more absurd than to extol the sacraments above the word, whose appendages and seals they are, they will find nothing applicable to the word that we do not also give to the sacraments.
In short if they acknowledge God as the only author of our salvation, how do they ask more to be given to the sacraments than to be means and instruments of his secret grace, adapted to our weakness? To vindicate them completely from contempt this one fact; should suffice — that they are not only badges of all the blessings which God once exhibited to us in Christ, and which we receive every day, but that the efficacy of the Spirit; is conjoined with their outward representation, lest they should be empty pictures.
On the other hand, how carefully we ought to guard against superstition, not only does the experience of all ages teach, but every individual may be convinced by his own weakness. For as our mind is prone to earth, external elements have too much influence in drawing us to themselves without being extravagantly adorned. When immoderate commendation is added, scarcely one in a hundred refrains from carrying his reverence to a depraved and vicious excess. In this matter the pertinacity of our detractors is more than blind. For being forced to vociferate against the Papists, they ,dare not explain the matter clearly, lest they may be thought to subscribe to our view; nay, lest they should descend to true moderation, they purposely entangle themselves, and leave their readers in suspense.
That I may not seem to complain without cause, I will now make it plain by a brief explanation that there is nothing in our Agreement deserving of censure. To guard against superstition, we said, in the first place, that those act foolishly who look only to the bare signs, and not rather to the promises annexed to them. By these words we meant nothing more than what, with universal consent, Augustine truly and wisely teaches, (Homil. in Joan. 80,) that the elements become sacraments only when the word is added, not because it is pronounced, but because it is believed. And the reason why our Savior pronounces the apostles clean is because of the word which they had heard from him, not because of the baptism with which they had been washed. For if the visible figures which are introduced as sacraments without the word are not only jejune and lifeless elements but noxious impostures, what else is gazing upon a sacrament without waiting for the promise but mere illusion? Certainly if a man only brings his eyes and shuts his ears, they will differ in no respect from the profane rites of the heathen. For though we confess that of the ancient rites of the heathen very many had their origin, from the holy patriarchs, yet, as being devoid of doctrine, they retained nothing of pure faith, we justly say that they were degenerate and corrupt.
The matter stands truly thus. If the sign be not seasoned with the promise, being insipid in itself, it will be of no avail. For what can a man of mortality and earth do by pouring water on the heads of those whom he baptizes, if Christ does not pronounce from above that he washes their souls by his blood, and renews them by his Spirit? What will the whole company of the faithful gain by tasting a little bread and wine, if the voice does not echo from heaven that the flesh of Christ is spiritual food and his blood is truly drink? We therefore truly conclude, that it is not at all by the material of water, and bread and wine that we obtain possession of Christ and his spiritual gifts, but that we are conducted to him by the promise, so that he makes himself ours, and, dwelling in us by faith, fulfills whatever is promised and offered by the signs. What any man should disapprove in this, I see not, unless perhaps he thinks it an honor to the sacred signs, to be regarded as illusory forms without faith.
On this occasion we again properly lead back pious minds to Christ, not allowing them to seek or hope elsewhere for the blessings of which a badge and pledge is held forth to them in the signs. And in this way we follow the rule which the Lord prescribed to Moses, namely, to make all things after the model which he had shown him in the mount. For this passage is not without reason referred to by Stephen in the Acts, and the Apostle in the Epistle to the Hebrews. But as anciently the best method of correcting gross error among the Jews was not to let them stop at the visible tabernacle and the sacrifices of beasts, but to set Christ before their eyes and make them look up to him, so in the present day we should be intent on that spiritual archetype, and not delude ourselves with empty shows.
And, certainly, our Lord in instituting the sacraments by no means surrounded us with impediments to confine us to the world. He rather set up ladders by which we might scale upwards to the heavens; for nowhere else is Christ to be sought, and nowhere are we to rest than in him alone.
What? did Christ, I would ask, die and rise again that he might cease to be the cause and groundwork of our salvation? Nay, he has furnished us with aids to seek him, while he remains in his own place.
We next proceed to correct a more common but not less ruinous superstition, when we teach that if any thing is be, stowed on us through the sacraments, it is not owing to any proper virtue in them, but in as much as the Lord is pleased in them to exert the agency of his Spirit. For the human mind is unable to refrain from either enclosing the power of God in signs, or substituting signs in the place of God hence it is that God himself is robbed of the praise of his virtue, men attributing to lifeless creatures that which is peculiarly his. The sum of our doctrine, which we declare in lucid and by no means ambiguous terms, is, that God alone performs whatever we obtain by the sacraments, and that by his secret and, as it is called, intrinsic virtue. But lest any one should object, that the signs too have their office, and were not given in vain, we hasten to meet the objection by saying, that God uses their instrumentality, and yet in such manner that he neither infuses his virtue into them, nor derogates in any respect from the efficacy of his Spirit.
What would these worthy men here have? Would they have God to act by the sacraments? We teach so. Would they have our faith to be exercised, cherished, aided, confirmed, by them? This, too, we assert. Would they have the power of the Holy Spirit to be exerted in them, and make them available for the salvation of God’s elect? We concede this also. The question turns upon this — should we ascribe all the parts of our salvation entirely to God alone, or does he himself by using the sacraments transfer part of his praise to them? Who but one devoid of all modesty dares maintain so? And as a witness to our doctrine we cite Paul, who declares that ministers are nothing, and in planting and watering do nothing at all apart from God, who alone giveth the increase. Hence it is easy for any one to see, that, provided God is not to be robbed of his own, we detract nothing from the sacraments. It is well known how highly Paul, in another passage, extols the preaching of the word. How comes it then that he here reduces it to almost nothing, unless it be that when it comes into contrast with God he alone must be acknowledged as the author of all blessings, while he uses the creatures thus freely, and at his own will acts by means of them so far as he pleases? No injury is done to earthly elements in not decking them with the spoils of God.
What we subjoin from Augustine, viz., that it is Christ alone who baptizes inwardly, and that it is he alone who makes us partakers of himself in the Supper, strongly displays the excellence of both ordinances. For we hence infer, that acts of which the Son of God is the author, over which he presides, in which, as with outstretched hand from heaven, he displays his virtue, are no acts of man. Then nothing is more useful than to withdraw our sense from gazing on mortal man and an earthly element, that our faith may behold Christ as if actually present though this indeed is intended to claim for Christ his own right, and not allow it to be supposed that in committing the external ministry to men, he resigns to them the merit of the spiritual effect. In this sense Augustine at. great length maintains, (Hom. 5, 6, in Joann.,) that the power and efficacy of baptism are competent to none but Christ. And what need is there of human testimony while the words which fell clear from the lips of the Baptist ought to be continually sounding in our ears, “He it is who baptizeth with the Spirit,” ( John 1) It is clear that this title distinguished him from all ministers, and acquaints us that he alone does inwardly what men attest by visible sign.
This Augustine well explains in these words, (Quaest. Vet. Test., lib. in. c. 84,) “How then does Moses and how does our Lord sanctify? Moses does not sanctify in place of the Lord, but by visible sacraments through his ministry; whereas the Lord sanctifies by invisible grace through the Holy Spirit, wherein lies the whole fruit even of visible sacraments.” For without that sanctification of invisible grace, what can visible sacraments avail? Nor in any other way can we reconcile passages of Scripture in which there is an apparent discrepancy. Of this class are those which we have there referred to, viz., that the Holy Spirit is a seal by which faith in the future inheritance is ratified to us, and that the sacraments are also seals. For there is no more consistency in placing these in the same rank than in transferring to signs what is competent to none but the Spirit. The only solution, therefore, is in the common axiom, that there is no repugnance between superior and subaltern. For were any one to contend that our salvation is not sealed by lifeless signs, this being the proper office of the Holy Spirit, I ask what answer these censors whom our argument does not please would give? Just what we maintain — that though God uses inferior means, it does not at all imply that he does not begin and perfect our faith solely by the agency of his Spirit.
When we say, that the signs are not available to all indiscriminately, but to the elect, only, to whom the inward and effectual working of the Spirit is applied, the thing is too clear to require any lengthened statement. If any one would make the effect common to all, he is not only refuted by the testimony of Scripture but by experience. As the outward voice of man by itself cannot at all penetrate the heart, but out of many hearers those alone come to Christ who are inwardly drawn by the Father, (according to the words of Isaiah, that none believed his preaching save those to whom the word of the Lord was revealed,) so it is in the free and sovereign determination of God to give the profitable use of signs to whom he pleases.
When we thus speak, we do not understand that any thing is changed in the nature of the sacraments, so as to make them less entire. Nor does Augustine, (Tract in Joann. 26,) when he confines the effect of the holy Supper to the body of the Church, consisting in the predestinate, who have already been justified in part, and are still justified, and will one day be glorified, make void or impair its force considered in itself in regard to the reprobate. He only affirms that the benefit is not alike common to all.
But seeing that in the reprobate the only obstacle to their possession of Christ is their own unbelief, the whole blame resides in themselves. In short, the exhibition of the sign disappoints no man but him who malignantly and spontaneously defrauds himself. For it is most true, that every one receives from the sign just as much benefit as. his vessel of faith can contain.
And we justly repudiate the fiction of Sorbonne, that the sacraments of the new law are available to all who do not interpose the obstacle of mortal sin. For to ascribe to them a virtue which the external use merely, as a kind of channel, infuses into souls, is plainly a senseless superstition. But if faith must intervene, no man of sense will deny that the same God who helps our infirmity by these aids, also gives faith, which, elevated by proper ladders, may climb to Christ and obtain his grace. And it ought to be beyond controversy, that as it would not be enough for the sun to shine, and send down its rays from the sky, were not eyes previously given us to enjoy its light, so it were in vain for the Lord to give us the light of external signs, if he did not make us capable of discerning them.
Nay, just as the light of the sun, while it invigorates a living and animated body, produces effluvia in a carcase; so it is certain that the sacraments where the Spirit of faith is not present, breathes mortiferous rather than vital odor.
But lest any should suppose from this that any thing is lost to the virtue of the sacraments, or that by the unbelief and wickedness of man the truth of God is impaired, I think we carefully put them on their guard when we say, that the signs nevertheless remain entire, and offer divine grace to the unworthy, and that the effect of the promises does not fail, though unbelievers receive not what is offered. We are not here speaking of the ministers as to whom it was at one time foolishly doubted, whether their perfidy, or any other unworthiness, vitiated the sacraments. We hold the ordinance of God to be too sacred to depend for its efficacy on man. Be it then that Judas or any other epicurean contemner of every thing sacred, is the administrator of baptism or the Lord’s Supper, we hold that both the washing of regeneration, and the spiritual nourishment of the body and blood of Christ, are conferred through his hand, just as if he were an angel come down from heaven.
Not that it becomes the Church at large, by carelessness or connivance, to foster vicious ministers, or those who pollute the holy place by impure lives. She ought rather to exert herself both in public and ill private, to cleanse the sanctuary of God as far as may be of such defilements. But if it happens that men altogether ungodly surreptitiously obtain the honor, or the ambitious favor of certain persons prevents the dissolute from being brought to order, or as was most desirable, forthwith discarded, how detestable soever their unworthiness may be, it detracts nothing from the sacraments, since that which Christ then bestows he takes from himself, and does not draw or derive from ministers. We have no doubt, therefore, that the Popish requisite of intention in the officiating minister, is a perverse and pernicious figment. But as the Lord is always ready to perform what he figures, as well by ungodly as by faithful ministers, we acknowledge that what is offered is received only by faith, while we hold that unbelievers are sent empty away.
We deny, therefore, that the Lord withholds his hand. On the contrary, we maintain, that in order to be perpetually consistent with himself, and ill infinite goodness strive with the wickedness of men, he truly offers what they reject. But there is a wide difference between the two things — that the Lord is faithful in performing what he shows by a sign, and that man, in order to enjoy the proffered grace, makes way for the promise. Before any one can receive what is given, he must have the capacity, as it is written, “Open thy mouth wide and I will fill it.” It is mere ignorance, therefore, that makes some cry out, that the figure of the holy Supper is made empty and void, if the ungodly do not receive as much in it as believers. If they hold that the same thing is given to both indiscriminately, I could easily subscribe to their inference, but that Christ is received without faith is no less monstrous than that a seed should germinate in the fire. By what right do they allow themselves to dissever Christ from his Spirit? This we account nefarious sacrilege. They insist that Christ is received by the wicked, to whom they do not concede one particle of the Spirit of Christ. What else is this than to shut him up in a tomb as if he were dead?
But it will be said, that Paul would not charge those who eat unworthily with being guilty of the body and blood of the Lord, were they not also made partakers of Christ. Nay, I should rather say, that if access was given them to Christ, it would exempt theta from all guilt. But now as they foully trample upon the pledge of sacred communion, which they ought to receive with reverence, it is not strange that they are counted guilty of his body and blood.
Ignorant men absurdly imagine that they would not be guilty, did they not handle with their hands, and chew with their teeth, and swallow the body of Christ. Then, according to them, what kind of receiving will this be?
Paul declares faith to be the, mode by which Christ dwells in us.
Wherefore, if faith is wanting, he can only be received for a moment, and then vanish. How much more rightly does Augustine, as became a man well versed in the Scriptures, say, (Hom. in Joan. 62,) that the bread of the Lord was given to Jesus to make him a slave of the devil, just as a messenger of Satan was given to Paul to perfect him in Christ. He had previously said, (Hom. 59,) that the other disciples ate the Lord the bread, whereas Judas ate the bread of the Lord against the Lord. In another place also, (Hom. 26,) he wisely expounds; the celebrated saying of Christ, that those who eat him shall never die, meaning, he says, that the virtue of the sacrament is not only the visible sacrament, that it is within, not without, in those who cat with the heart, not press with the teeth. Whence he at length concludes, that a sacrament of the thing is held forth at the Lord’s table, and is taken by some unto destruction, by others unto life, but that the thing itself, of which the Supper is a sign, yields life to all, destruction to none who partake of it.
That there may be no doubt as to the mind of this writer, it will not be disagreeable to go a little deeper into his views. After saying that the hunger of the inner man seeks for this bread, he subjoins, Moses and Aaron and Phinehas, and many others, who pleased the Lord and did not die, ate of the manna. Why? Because they understood the visible food spiritually; they hungered spiritually; they tasted spiritually; they were filled spiritually. For we, too, of the present day, have received visible food; but the sacrament is one thing, the virtue of the sacrament is another.
A little after he says — “ And by this he who abides not in Christ, and in whom Christ abides not, doubtless neither spiritually eats his flesh nor drinks his blood, though he carnally and visibly press the sign of the body and blood with his teeth, but he rather eats and drinks the sacrament of this great thing to his condemnation, because, though unclean, he has presumed to approach the sacraments of Christ.”
You see how he concedes to the profane and impure nothing but a visible taking of the sign. I admit, he says elsewhere, (Lib. 5, de Bapt. contra Donatist.,) that the bread of the Supper was the body of Christ to those to whom Paul said, “Whoso eateth unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body,” and that they received nothing, just because they received badly. But in what sense he wished this to be understood, he explains more fully in another place, (Lib. de Civ. Del. 21, c. 25.) For undertaking professedly to explain how the wicked and abandoned, who profess the Catholic faith with their lips, eat the body of Christ, and this in opposition to the opinion of some who pretended that they ate not only of the sacrament but of the reality, he goes on, “Neither can those be said to eat the body of Christ, since they are not to be accounted among the members of Christ. For not to mention other grounds, they cannot be the members of Christ and the members of a harlot.” In short, our Savior himself, when he says, “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood remaineth in me and I in him,” shows what it is not to eat of the sacrament merely, but really of the body of Christ. For one to abide in Christ, means that Christ abides in him. It was just as if he had said — Let not him who does not abide in me, and in whom I do not abide, say or think that he eats my body or drinks my blood. Let ignorant men cease to contend for Judas, if they would not seem to desire a Christ without Christ.
We next proceed to say, that the effect of the spiritual blessings which the sacraments figure, is given to believers without the use of the, sacraments.
As this is daily experienced to be true, and is proved by passages of Scripture, it is strange if any are displeased with it. When martyrs shut up in prison cannot take the external sign, shall we say that those in whom Christ is triumphantly magnified are without Christ? Nor can any one altogether devoid of Christ make a due approach to the Supper. The reality of baptism was not wanting to Cornelius, who, previous to the washing of water, had been sprinkled with the Holy Spirit, just as Moses was not devoid of the divine unction, of which he communicated the sign to others, though he Himself never received it.
By thus teaching, we, by no means intend that we are to lay aside the use of signs, and be contented with secret inspirations. Although the Lord occasionally, to prove that his virtue is not tied to any means, performs without sign what he represents by sign, it. does not follow that we are to east away any thing which he ordained for our salvation, as if it were superfluous. Far less will this be lawful for us, whose faith ought to be intent on his word and seals. For it has been truly said by Augustine, (Lib. Quaest. Vet. Test. 3,) that although God sanctifies whom he pleases without the visible sign, yet whoso contemns the sign is justly deprived of invisible sanctification.
Akin to this article is that which we next add, viz., that the advantage received from the sacraments ought not to be restricted to the time of external taking, as if they carried the grace of God along with them at the very moment. Herein if any one dissents from us he must of necessity both accelerate the gift of regeneration in many, and fabricate innumerable baptism, for the remainder of life. We see the effect of baptism, which for a time was null, appear at last. Many are dipped with water from their mother’s womb, who, as they advance in life, are so far from showing that they were inwardly baptized that they rather make void their baptism by doing what in them lies to quench the Spirit of God. Part of these God calls back to himself. He, therefore, who would include newness of life in the sign as a capsule, so far from doing honor to the sign, dishonors God.
Then, seeing that repentance and advancement in it ought to be our constant study even until death, who sees not that baptism is impiously mutilated if its virtue and fruit, which embraces the whole course of life, is not extended beyond the outward administration? Nay, no greater affront to the sacred symbols can be imagined than to hold that their reality is in force only at the time of actual exhibition. My meaning is, that though the visible figure immediately passes away, the grace which it testifies still remains, and does not vanish in a moment with the spectacle exhibited to the eye. I have no intention to countenance the superstition of those who absurdly preserve the elements of bread and water in their churches, as if after the present use to which they were; destined the effect of consecration still adhered to them. This it was necessary distinctly to declare, lest any one should affix the hope of salvation, which is liable to no change of times, to temporary signs, and faith apprehend no more than the eye perceives.
I come now to the question out of which such violent and bitter conflicts have arisen, of what nature is the communion of our Lord’s body and blood in the holy Supper? We have not given a definition of it before refuting the figment of a local presence, and explaining the meaning of the words of Christ, as to which there has heretofore been too much contention. But as our purpose is to meet the objections of captious and unlearned men, who are borne headlong by a blind impulse to slander, or to pacify the honest and simple whom they have imbued with their deleterious speeches, I will now begin with that third article.
First, then, we acknowledge that Christ truly performs what he figures by the symbols of bread and wine, nourishing our souls with the eating of his flesh and the drinking of his blood. Away, then, with the vile calumny, that it would be theatrical show if the Lord did not perform in truth what he shows by the sign; as if we said that any thing is shown which is not truly given. The Lord bids us take bread and wine. At the same time he declares that he gives the spiritual nourishment of his flesh and blood. We say that no fallacious figure of this is set before our eyes, but that a pledge is given us, with which the substance and reality are conjoined; in other words, that our souls are fed with the flesh and blood of Christ. The term faith is thus used by us not to denote some imaginary thing, as if believers received what is promised only in thought or memory, but only to prevent any one from thinking that Christ is so far prostituted that unbelievers enjoy him.
When Paul teaches that Christ dwells in our hearts by faith, he does not substitute an imaginary for true habitation, but reminds us in what way we may ascertain the possession of so great a blessing. We acknowledge, then, without any equivocation, that the flesh of Christ gives life, not only because we once obtained salvation by it, but because now, while we are made one with Christ by a sacred union, the same flesh breathes life into us, or, to express it more briefly, because ingrafted into the body of Christ by the secret agency of the Spirit, we have life in common with him. For from the hidden fountain of the Godhead life was miraculously infused into the body of Christ, that it might flow from thence to us.
But here again, as the minds of men always conceive grossly of the heavenly mysteries of God, it was necessary to obviate delirious dreams.
With this view we laid down the definition, that what we say of the partaking of Christ’s flesh must not be understood as if any commingling or transfusion of substance took place, but that we draw life from the flesh once offered in sacrifice. If any one is displeased with this explanation, I say, first, that he has some fiction of his own brain which is nowhere taught in Scripture, and by no means accords with the analogy of faith; and I say, secondly, that it is too presumptuous, after taking up a meaning at random, to lay down the law to others. If they insist that the substance of the flesh of Christ is commingled with the soul of man, in how many absurdities will they involve themselves?
They say it is not lawful to bring down this sublime mystery to secular reasonings, or to gauge its immense magnitude by the little measure of our capacity. To this I readily assent,. But is the modesty of faith to be made to consist in disfiguring religion all over with horrid monsters? In this way every thing that is most absurd would be most accordant with Christ and his doctrine. We acknowledge that the sacred union which we have with Christ is incomprehensible to carnal sense. His joining us with him so as not only to instill his life into us, but to make us one with himself, we grant to be a mystery too sublime for our comprehension, except in so far as his words reveal it. But are we therefore to dream that his substance is transferred into us so. that he is defiled by our impurities? Their boast, that they shut their eyes and inquire not too curiously into what the Lord has concealed, is proved to be most vain from this, that they do not allow themselves to be taught by the word of God. Sobriety of faith is not only to acquiesce in the decision of God, and apprehend no more than his sacred lips have revealed, but also to attend diligently to the spirit of prophecy, and embrace a sound interpretation with meek docility. It is presumptuous petulance either not to confine yourself within due limits, or to fastidiously reject the light of sound understanding.
None of us denies that the body and blood of Christ are communicated to us. But the question is, what is the nature of this communication of our Lord’s body and blood? I wonder how these men dare to assert simply and openly that it is carnal. When we say that it is spiritual, they roar out as if by this term we were making it not to be what they commonly call real. If they will use real for true, and oppose it to fallacious or imaginary, we will rather speak barbarously than afford material for strife. We are aware how little strivings about words become the servants of Christ, but as nothing is gained by making concessions to men who are in all ways implacable, I wish to declare to peaceful and moderate men, that according to us the spiritual mode of communion is such that we enjoy Christ in reality. Let us be contented with this reason, against which no man, unless he is very quarrelsome, will rebel, that the flesh of Christ gives us life, inasmuch as Christ by it instils spiritual life into our souls, and that it is also eaten by us when by faith we grow up into one body with Christ, that he being ours imparts to us all that is his.
In regard to local presence, I wonder that our censors are not ashamed to raise a quarrel. As they deny that the body of Christ is circumscribed by local space, they hold it to be immense. What do we hold? That we are to seek it in heaven, which, as Scripture declares, has received him till he appear to judgment. There is no ground, however, for any individual to charge us with holding that he is absent from us, and thus separating the head from the members. Certainly if Paul could say that so long as we are in the world we are absent as pilgrims from the Lord, we may say, on the same ground, that we are separated from him by a certain species of absence, inasmuch as we are now distant from his heavenly dwelling.
Christ then is absent from us in respect of his body, but dwelling in us by his Spirit he raises us to heaven to himself; transfusing into us the vivifying vigor of his flesh, just as the rays of the sun invigorate us by his vital warmth. Their common saying, that he is with us invisible, is equivalent to saying, that though his form is treasured up in heaven, the substance of his flesh is on the earth. But a sense of piety clearly dictates that he infuses life into us from his flesh, in no other way than by descending into us by his energy, while, in respect of his body, he still continues in heaven.
The same view must be taken of what we immediately add, viz., that in this way we not only refute the Popish fiction of transubstantiation, but all the gross figments, as well as futile sophistry, which derogate either from the heavenly glory of Christ, or are repugnant to the reality of his human nature. It is unnecessary to dwell more on this explanation, which was not added without consideration.
Some who would make the body of Christ immense deprive it of the nature of a body, others enclose his Deity under a lifeless element. If the one party has erred through ignorance, and the other, carried away in the heat of contention, has rashly uttered an absurdity, let it remain buried. I do not attack or inveigh against the persons of men. We have not attacked any one in our writing, but have held it sufficient to cut off all handle for error. Who can be offended when we wish Christ to remain complete and entire in regard to both natures, and the Mediator who joins us to God not to be torn to pieces? The immensity which they imagine the flesh of Christ to possess, is a monstrous phantom, which overturns the hope of a resurrection. To all the absurdities they advance concerning the heavenly life, I will always oppose the, words of St. Paul, that we wait for Christ from heaven, who will transform our poor body and make it conformable to his own glorious body. Need we say how absurd it were to fill the whole world with the single body of each believer?
Let those men, then, allow us modestly to profess what is sound and right, and not force us by their intemperance to uncover their disgrace, which is better hid. Let them not fiercely assail us, because sparing names, as I have said, we have been contented with a bare refutation of errors. They think it intolerable in us to deny that Christ is placed under the bread, or coupled with the bread. What then? Will they pull him down from his throne, that he may lie enclosed in a little bit of bread? Should any one say that the body of Christ is offered to us under the bread, as an earnest, we will not quarrel with him on that account, any more than when in disposing of the carnal or local coupling we endeavored to make a divorce between the sign and its reality. Let believers then receive the body of Christ under the symbol of bread; for he is true who speaks, and it is not at all in accordance with his character to deceive us by holding forth an empty badge; only let there be no local enclosing or carnal infusing.
All that now remains is the exposition of our Lord’s words. If in it there is any offense, let them impute it to their own perverseness in being determined to involve what is clear in itself in darkness by clamor and tumult. Christ having called the bread his body, they insist on the precise words, and refuse to admit any figure. But if the bread is properly the body of Christ, it will follow that Christ himself is just as much bread as he is man. We may add, that if the expression is not figurative, they themselves act perversely in saying that the same body is under the bread, with the bread, and in the bread. If they assume such gross liberty of interpretation, why will they not allow us to open our mouth? When in searching for the meaning of the words we consider in what manner Scripture usually speaks of the sacraments, they refuse to listen because it was once said, This is my body. What? was it not also said that Christ was a Rock? And in what sense, but just that he was the same spiritual drink with him whom we now drink in the cup? That they might not be forced to yield to plain reason, they madly dissever things sacredly joined.
To be silent as to this, and let it pass, I would ask, by what right they allow themselves to resolve this sentence of theirs, on which they insist so much, into different forms of speech? After insisting that the bread is Christ, why do they afterwards fly off to their own fictions, and say, that he is with the bread, in the bread, and under the bread? Who gave them this authority to sport futile fictions, not less remote from usage than selfcontradictory, and debar others from sound understanding? If the bread must be regarded as the body, because it is so called, just as much must it on the authority of Paul be regarded as the communion of the body. Nay, if I should say that Paul in this passage expounds more clearly what was rather obscurely expressed by Christ, what sober man will gainsay me?
The Lord declares that the bread is his body. The disciple follows, certainly not intending to throw darkness on the light, and explains that the bread is the communion of the body. Here, if they give us their consent, the dispute is at an end, for we also declare that in the breaking of bread the body of Christ is communicated to believers.
They insist on retaining the word. very well. Since Christ, according to Luke and Paul, calls the cup the covenant in his blood, whenever they cry that the bread is the body and the wine the blood, I, in my turn, will on the best authority rejoin, that they are covenants in the body and blood. Let unlearned men then cease from that pertinacity by which, not to use harsher terms, they must ever and anon find themselves perplexed and ensnared.
It is not worth while to enter into a full discussion at present, but this much I take for granted. After saying that the bread is the body, they are forced at the same time to confess that it is a sign of the body. How can they know this but just from the words of Christ? Therefore the very term sign, for the use of which they so invidiously quarrel with us, they stealthily extract from the very passage which they insist on being only literally interpreted. We, again, while in deference both to common sense and piety, we candidly acknowledge that the mode of expression is figurative, have no recourse either to allegories or parables; but we assume an axiom received by all pious men without controversy, that whenever the sacraments are treated of, it is usual to transfer the name of the thing signified by metonymy to the sign. Examples occur too frequently in Scripture for any opponents, however keen, to venture to deny that this mode of speech must be regarded as the general rule. Hence as the manna of old was spiritual food, as the water was Christ, as the Holy Spirit was a dove, as baptism was the laver of regeneration, so the bread is called the body and the wine the blood of Christ. If they choose to call it synecdoche rather than metonymy, and thus reduce it to a quarrel about a word, we shall leave grammarians to settle it. What, however, will they gain but just to expose themselves to derision for their ignorance, even boys being judges?
To pass over this, whosoever is disposed to strive about words proves that he is by no means a servant of Christ. While we are entirely agreed as to things, what can be more preposterous than to rend Churches and stir up fierce tumults because some hold that the bread is called body, in as much as the body is exhibited under it and with it, whereas others hold that it is a symbol — not an empty illusory symbol, but one to which its own reality is annexed, so that all who receive the sign with their mouth and the promise by faith become truly partakers of Christ. But if they have determined to make no end of their evil speaking, I am confident that no marl not engaged in the contention will be so unjust as not to acknowledge that we teach correctly, and practice sincerity, and are lovers of peace. I do not think there is any reason to fear that any person, if he be not smitten with the mad fury of those men, will countenance their importunate clamor.